Like the headwaters of a river, we are born into this world destined to float downhill where we will finally meet our purpose—a return home to the sea—where life begins and conjures up the storms that created the snow and rain that fostered the river’s headwaters. And, perhaps, it’s all one cycle that repeats itself through the eons.
By age, I’m closer to my beginnings in the sea than the rushing headwaters of a youthful river—a river filled with possibility, rich with bubbling rapids over boulders, restful at lazy bends, nourishing the land that farmers tend, dropping off as a waterfall, and harboring life born to my meanderings through forests, deserts, wetlands, jungles and floodplains.
My modern flow overcame dams, sluiceways and levees, all while welcoming the tributaries that joined my downstream journey.
Life’s lessons ebb and flow. What either serendipitously or purposefully became a teaching moment differs with each of us. But the lessons come whether we acknowledge them or not. Perhaps these personal vignettes will help each of us to grasp the beauty of our journey and bring us closer to discovering that perfection and failure come with our births. Self realization is a step to personal peace and developing a compassionate heart that nourishes the greater good.
The Lessons of Home
Instability best defines home for me as a child. There was no Norman Rockwell moment of family by the fire, sitting on Grandpa’s lap as he read a story to me, no tugging on my mother’s apron while she whipped up a batch of homemade cookies. It wasn’t until 1977 that I slipped into a temporary comfort of owning my home with a husband and our two young daughters.
Home. Recently I realized that I place more value on my home than exploring life-avenues, like travel. I’ve travelled, but as the aging process continued, the value I placed on home grew exponentially. And the crazy part is, that there’s always been access to travel and exploration funds, but I simply refused to spend it because what if_______(?). Illogical and paranoid? Or a controlling factor to assure the security of my four walls and a roof?
As I further grasp life’s impermanence, I question my choices knowing full well that parts of this planet that draw my curiosity will never be visited by me. I realize now that I let my quest for a Norman Rockwell living room scene dominate opportunities to expand my vision of history, geography, other cultures and nature’s magnificent diversity.
That first home was a tiny country house with one bedroom. There, I blossomed into the possibilities and not the reality that we spent the last of our savings to purchase the property. And when life’s impermanence resumed control by the sudden and unexpected death of my young husband, I dug in my heels to assure home for my daughters and self. Was that ever a raucous romp through bad choices and missteps toward seeking my ideal of home.
But through the dysfunction, my daughters and I had a home.
The worn adage, home is where the heart is, makes sense to me now, even if it is nearing my own midnight moment.
I harbor no regrets. That’s a waste of energy. But from here on out, I will live in the moment. I’ve relinquished control because control of my life was never mine to begin with.
A Few Childhood Lessons
When a friend recently asked me, “What or who is your rock?” I thought about it for a bit, then replied with the most obvious answer to myself, “Me. I am my own rock — always have been.”
That comes from a wobbly childhood. Time came when I realized that I must take charge of my life because the adults in the room failed parenting 101. I was 11-years-old. When I escaped through my bedroom window on a cold December night I harbored little fear of what was ahead — even if I hadn’t a clue as to what was ahead. A personal transition was in the works. No longer would I sit alone in the school yard and yank out my eyelashes from loneliness, isolation and anxiety. I had a voice, and I would use it. It wasn’t a smooth transition. Adolescence rarely is.
At 18 I was forced out the door this time. My 9-year transition developed willfulness and no fear of survival without authority at the helm. I was in control.
And I did the best I could. Not everything went smoothly, but through a 50-year window of memory, I gasp at how I finally succeeded in the most important element of this lifetime — motherhood. My daughters grew up to be fine persons with that same willfulness peppered with kindness and generosity.
Was this my mission in the first place? Is this why the River Charmaine traversed steep canyons and sheer drop-offs? Or were there guardian angels alongside with the assignment to provide soft landings when my river took a dangerous turn?
Blessings to those adults in my life who tried their best to raise me. Blessings to those few teachers who were patient with me. Blessings to all those with whom I have loved and lost. From each of these persons, I’ve integrated lessons learned, both negative and positive, into my life.
Lessons Learned on the Back of Jupiter
Jupiter was both a childhood fantasy come true and the registered palamino Quarter Horse with the proper name of Star Three Boots that I purchased from a nearby horse breeder when I was in my early twenties.
At age 5, I lived on a Mojave Desert ranch with wind, heat and dust as my closest friends. Consequently I spent hours imagining how Roy Rogers and his golden palomino Trigger would wile away the day with me. Now a young woman, who studied astrology, music and metaphysics, I added horsewoman to my repertoire. I knew nothing about horses. Yet I learned, thanks to a nearby real horsewoman who became my friend and I her confidant. It was a good tradeoff.
Jupiter was gentle and grew to be like a 1000 pound dog. We bonded and spoke our own language between each other.
Jupiter was my ride into the undeveloped, natural desert, several miles away from where we lived. Around 4 p.m. I saddled Jupiter up. We trotted down a west bound dirt path, crossed a busy road, and took the next dirt road to where nature had not been disturbed by mid-century, post war, GI Bill development. A peaceful vibe worked its way into my body and I felt my heart rate slow down as Jupiter and I carefully avoided tromping over the natural fauna and wound our way along rabbit paths in the sand. We could have gone on for hours, but as the golden hour glazed the natural beauty and solitude of the desert, it signified time to head back to the barn.
This was the first time I experienced the gifts of the desert — endless vision, rich color, sensual aromas, and blessed light — all learned while on the back of Jupiter.
Lessons From Cleaning a New Mexico Irrigation Ditch
Dixon, New Mexico is home to historic acequias (irrigation ditches) that remain protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, signed on February 2, 1848. One of those acequias rambled across the small apple farm that my husband I purchased in the early 1990s. The ditch became a central part of our life in Dixon, a tiny and rustic village in the Upper Rio Grande Valley, just as it had been for the Spanish settlers under the 1725 Embudo Land Grant. (The Rio Embudo, a tributary to the Rio Grande, fed our acequia. It also flowed at the bottom of our property.)
When I volunteered to serve as our acequia’s secretary/treasurer, I was handed a precious record book that dated possibly a century’s worth of property owners and their contribution to the annual maintenance of the acequia. Most of the records were written in Spanish. This was my introduction to living in what was once an isolated area of New Mexico that preserved the old ways and tradition.
Each early Spring required the annual cleaning of the ditch — a task usually carried out by both land owners or hired workers paid by the landowner dues that I recorded in that historic record book. I chose to join in the cleaning of the ditch. Few if any women took to this labor-intensive task. But for me, working besides longtime residents like Alphonso Mascarenas and “Sugar” Sanchez, I grew to appreciate and respect a culture new to me, plus add honor to the privilege of access to precious water that fed our apple trees and my oversized garden patch.
My life lesson included not only lasting friendships with persons whom I might otherwise never have met, but also the value of community and the fact that it does, indeed take a village.
Lessons from a Bookstore
And finally, the most significant of life lessons came from owning and operating a bookstore in Santa Fe, NM from 1988 through 1994/95.
When Spouse and I married in 1988, we found our mutual joy the day we purchased Enchanting Land Books — a failing bookstore on the corner of Alameda and Paseo de Peralta. Our mutual love of the written word and the charm of moving to Santa Fe from California was the salt in the recipe that flavored our adventure together.
Spouse had spent the previous 18 months building a retail business in California for a friend of his. I had spent the last four years as the public relations and marketing director for the Antelope Valley Fair, plus I maintained a fairly successful freelance writing career. We both loved to embrace and read books. We believed we could make this Santa Fe book business work.
What we didn’t know was that the entire book business was about to undergo a huge change from small independent booksellers to big box discount booksellers. Meanwhile, however, we did build the business to a profitable (OK, an itty-bitsy kind of profit) point. We developed a celebrity clientele because of our unique product mix designed for the family and featured children, and we brought in some of the best authors and illustrators both locally and nationally. So, yes, with Spouse’s retail savvy and my marketing savvy, we put Enchanting Land Books back on the Santa Fe scene.
Doesn’t this sound like a dream come true — a charming bookstore in Santa Fe where notable folks walked in out our doors and the cash register kept a steady hum?
What could possibly go wrong?
First, I left a career where I was treated with respect (and some privilege. I controlled my hours at work so that I could also be the mother my daughters deserved. Now as a retail bookseller, I suddenly transitioned into some schlep behind a cash register that signified open season on profiteers by the retail purchasing public. And, as I learned after a few months in business, I could not be at home when I wished and my preteen daughters were left to their own devices (I hear them laughing at this statement). As the big box phenomenon reached Santa Fe, one placed itself just about 500 yards from our colorful, enchanting, and well run store — and they discounted the same books we sold at 30-50% off retail,
This is when my blood pressure took to spiking, sleep became a stranger, and I realized that my once invaluable and priceless Rolodex of names and contacts from my marketing and freelance writing days no longer held the value that it had seven years prior. This was my fate and I hated it. Retail Charmaine was not me.
We sold the bookstore before it crashed. Spouse resurrected his pool and spa expertise and opened his own retail business that brought us financial success. This business was at complete odds with my inner being, but the essential requirement of bringing in the green left me with no choice but to do my share with that business until the day we sold it in 2008 and returned home to California.
Life lessons run rampant with the choices we made. Regrets skid the corners of rationalization of those moves. I lost years of allowing my creative self loose from the bounds of being a schlep behind a cash register. But don’t try to abuse me now because I do not have to smile because you, the customer is always right. Don’t ever ask me to sell product or stand behind a cash box ever. That’s not who I am.
You see, the lessons from a bookstore encompassed all four of the above lessons. The surprise lesson is that my conviction to my spiritual values held throughout the entire retail experience. And my gratitude goes out to all those persons who taught me exactly how not to interact with others when I’m not feeling empowered but wish to push my will onto the person on the other side of the cash counter. This applies to everything I do now, including this disgusting period of political discord in America. It’s all impermanent.
We’re at a time in history where the mischievous persons among us want to pollute both our metaphorical and real rivers to cover their avarice and quest for dominion. To them, we are all schleps behind the cash register — persons not worthy of concern.
At the same time, it is breathtaking how many have joined an army to build a force for good.
Life continues to ebb and flow, and these are my life lessons learned, as the River Charmaine makes her way back to the sea.